Wednesday 16 September 2020, 09:54

Danilo: Ability-wise Pirlo has still got it

  • Danilo evaluates Zinedine Zidane, Pep Guardiola and Andrea Pirlo

  • He raves about Kevin De Bruyne, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Danilo discusses his Russia 2018 experience and desire to go to Qatar 2022

“I’m very happy to have won league titles in England, Spain and Italy,” said Cristiano Ronaldo as he was showered with champagne in 2019. “It always feels good to be the only player in football history to have done something.”

That is no longer a unique distinction for Ronaldo… thanks to an old friend. Danilo conquered La Liga alongside his fellow Lusophone, won back-to-back Premier League crowns with Manchester City, and completed the treasured trinity with Juventus earlier this year.

The 29-year-old Brazil wingback kindly took a break from doing yoga with his dog, French Bulldog Jonny, to discuss team-mates Ronaldo and Neymar, former team-mate Kevin De Bruyne, Andrea Pirlo’s early days in the Juve hot-seat, working under Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola, and the unique sensation of playing in a FIFA World Cup™. What were Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola like to work under? Danilo: They were totally different in the way they worked, but they were both were extremely positive experiences for my growth. Zidane’s very calm, genuine, charismatic. He gets the best out of players by making them feel at ease. It was really cool to work with him and it was a very successful period for Real Madrid. I developed a really good relationship with him. And Guardiola is exactly the opposite. He’s very intense and he gets the best out of his players through this intensity. I spent two years with him, it was also a successful period results-wise, and he helped me with this intensity, to give your maximum in every minute of a match. That’s how he works.

You played alongside Kevin De Bruyne at Manchester City. What do you think of him? Kevin, for me, without any doubt, is one of the best players in the world in his position. If you analyse him, as well as the assists and the goals, he works really hard, he helps the team a lot tactically, he’s always very well positioned. He’s a leader at Manchester City. Without any doubt, he’s one of the players in the best form in the world, if not the best. This isn’t just now – he’s been at this level for a few years. It’s the fruit of his work, how he lives his profession, how he lives football. I think he can develop even more and be the main man for Manchester City over the next few years.

How was your first season at Juventus? I consider it a good year. It was a year of adaptation. I left the Premier League, which is totally different from the Italian championship tactically, physically. I tried to adapt as quickly as possible. I played a lot of games, we managed to win the Scudetto, but it’s very clear that at Juventus the target is to win the Champions League and we fell short. I hope my second year can be better, and that I avoid injuries.

What did you think of Andrea Pirlo as a player? He was a player who had no equal. He wasn’t the quickest, but he was a great thinker and had indisputable quality on the ball. Actually, he’s participated in a couple of training sessions over the last few days and he’s still incredible – his vision, technique. If we have some injuries, who knows? (laughs) Ability-wise he can still do it.

What are your first impressions of him as a coach? He’s really chilled. He really understands the players’ mentality on the pitch as he only stopped playing recently. He knows Juventus inside out. He knows how to get his message across, to speak to players one-on-one, to get the best out of them. And he’s been applying some really good tactical ideas and he is very clear with how he wants the team to play, which I really like. The early days with Andrea have been really positive.

What do you think of Cristiano Ronaldo? Cristiano is an indisputable great. What he does in matches, his statistics, say everything. He’s extremely competitive in training, and this reflects in matches. He has so many qualities. Perhaps what sets him apart is that he’s good at every aspect of the game. And he’s a really cool guy. I have a really good relationship with him – we were together for two years at Real Madrid and now at Juventus. We chat about everything. He has a very human side. He’s always asking things about Brazil. For example, during COVID he’s always asking how the situation is in Brazil. He worries about it. He’s very human, really nice.

You’ve played in Spain, Italy and England. Which league do you consider the best out of them? It’s very difficult to say. They’re completely different leagues. In terms of quality, Spain. Regardless of whether they’re a big or small team, they always try to attack, take advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses, win and play football. In England it’s really physical, passionate, intense. The action doesn’t stop. It’s a style of football that I really loved. And in Italy it’s very tactical – a little more intelligent, thought out. It’s difficult [for attackers] to find space. Each one is loved because of its own characteristics.

Qatar 2022 qualifying is set to start for Brazil next month. How was your Russia 2018 experience? It was a mix of sentiments. The explosion of happiness to make my World Cup debut, to live through the atmosphere at a World Cup. And then the frustration of the two injuries that ruled me out of games. But overall, it was really positive. It’s a unique experience. It’s the objective of every footballer. When you get there, you feel the sensation of having realised a dream. Having that experience, and being ruled out of games when I was desperate to play, has made me want to be at the next World Cup even more.

You must be happy with the confidence Tite has shown in you? I’m very happy. This is one of the objectives: to have the confidence of the Brazilian national team coach. It’s something that motivates you, that makes you want to improve every day to show his faith is justified. But in Brazil you always have so much competition for places. We have so many great players, new players are always emerging, so I have to keep going and work really hard at Juventus to retain Tite’s faith.

You’ve played 25 times for Brazil, but if it wasn’t for Daniel Alves, who knows how many caps you’d have won. Has it been frustrating having such a great player who has played for so long in your way? No, it’s frustrating in absolutely no way. I’ve been coming and going in the national team for almost ten years, I consider this a really important milestone, achievement. Principally because of where I came from, my trajectory. People have said about a lack of right-backs in Brazil – it’s always seen the opposite. In the last ten years there’s been Maicon and Daniel Alves. The quality of right-backs is very high and the competition for places is really tough.

What do you think of Neymar? Neymar, for me, without any doubt, is at the tip of the best players in the world, where very few players have a place. I’ve known him for over ten years, from when we were at Santos and in the Seleção. I’ve seen him do incredible things at close hand. Every time he does something new, it doesn’t surprise me because I know he has a talent that outranks any other active player.

Will Brazil win Qatar 2022? (laughs) I hope so. The qualifiers will be tough. Football – tactically and physically – has evolved so much. It makes it much more of a level playing field. But winning the World Cup is our target. We have talented, experienced players.

Who will be Brazil’s biggest rivals for the Trophy? Spain are in good form, France have a really strong generation, and I’d put Belgium and Holland, who have looked incredible recently, in the mix. Then you have the established teams – Italy, Argentina. In a tournament like the World Cup, as well as quality, tradition carries a lot of weight.